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Diane Dimond Headshot

Holding Doctors Accountable

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MICHAEL JACKSON ALIVE
AP

You may not have been the least bit interested in the recent trial of Dr. Conrad Murray who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of entertainer Michael Jackson. He has now been sentenced to the maximum -- four years behind bars for giving Jackson the hospital-only anesthesia Propofol in his home every night for at least two months.

Here's why the outcome of the Murray trial is important.

The case riveted doctors across the nation. Especially doctors in celebrity studded areas of the country like Los Angeles and New York, Aspen and Nashville, Atlanta and New Mexico, where concerts and movie shoots attract some of the biggest divas in the entertainment business.

As the old Hollywood saying goes, "Where there's a star there are drugs." And more than you realize, there is very often a medical doctor with prescription pad in hand willing and able to cater to a celebrity's every whim. Extra narcotic pain pills or sleeping aids? No problem. Prescriptions written in a phony name to insure anonymity? Sure thing! Never mind that the doctor's actions constitute a violation of federal law.

Bending the rules is worth it to some doctors because having a famous patient brings invaluable word-of-mouth should the entertainer ever mention the doctor's name. And, it means bragging rights for life for their medical practice.

These so-called concierge Doctors -- and most certainly their malpractice insurance carriers -- took serious notice of Murray's conviction and the public tongue lashing he got from the judge during sentencing. Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor lobbed a clear shot across the bow to over-prescribing doctors everywhere.

At a time when more Americans are hooked on prescription drugs than street drugs like cocaine and heroin; at a time when record numbers of addicted babies are being born and prescription painkiller overdoses are reported at record levels, the words of Judge Pastor were like a warning horn in a very dense fog.

"It should be made very clear that experimenting with medicine will not be tolerated. Mr. Jackson was an experiment. The fact that he participated in it does not excuse or lessen the blame of Dr. Murray, who could have said no and walked away as many others did."

When you stop to think about it, every time a doctor doles out a narcotics prescription to a patient who claims to be in pain it is a gamble. The patient might be a criminal faking symptoms to get Oxycodone and other similar painkillers like Percocet. They might be a dealer, selling the pills for as much as fifty dollars apiece. And doctors have no way of knowing whether the person sitting in front of them has already gone doctor-shopping and gotten a stash of prescription drugs from other medical professionals. To be fair to those dedicated doctors we know are out there -- they are health care providers, not police investigators.

There are several levels of law enforcement to deal with reckless doctors, but it is plain to see they aren't effective. Otherwise the problem of prescription abuse wouldn't have ballooned to encompass the multiple millions of cases we see each year.

The feds at the DEA don't like to get involved in cases that aren't slam dunks wrapped up with a guilty plea. Rather than get their feet dirty fighting a case in court, the DEA would rather leave it to state medical boards to take punitive action against bad doctors. The trouble with that is many of these boards are often underfunded, understaffed and lack the will to go after those who are considered to be the most successful pillars of the community.

Add to the bad doctor roster the so-called Pill Mills, like the ones that dot the state of Florida, where people flock from miles around to buy narcotics for cash. And the Internet "pharmacies" where anyone with an active credit card can buy just about anything they want. Authorities work hard to shut down these addict-making enterprises, but as soon as one is shut down three more crop up.

And so the number of drug addicted Americans continues to rise every year. Whatever it is we're doing to try to get ahead of the problem simply isn't working.

Last year around this time I was writing about the convictions reached in the infamous Anna Nicole Smith drug overdose case. Two of the buxom actress' doctors and her boyfriend-lawyer had been charged with funneling narcotics to Smith in the months and weeks before her death.

In the end, only one of the doctors, Dr. Khristine Eroshevich was found guilty along with Smith's lover Howard K. Stern. In a surprise move, the judge tossed out all but one misdemeanor count against Dr. Eroshevich. It was hardly a triumph for the L.A. based prosecution team.

Now, however, prosecutors have the rock solid, slam dunk Conrad Murray conviction under their belt which could very well add new energy to cases pending against doctors in other states.

Those who practice medicine with celebrity top-of-mind rather than their Hippocratic Oath are hereby forewarned. Learn to just say no.

Diane Dimond may be reached through her web site: www.dianedimond.com Her latest book, 'Cirque Du Salahi' -- the inside and untold story of the so-called White House Gate Crashers -- is available through Amazon.com

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